Saturday, 5 July 2014

Our friends electric

It is not often that a brand new motor racing concept starts on your very doorstep, but so it was that the new FIA sanctioned racing series, Formula E,  had based itself at a Donington Park, a motor racing circuit close to my home.

Even better, they had announced that the testing sessions were to be free. So it seemed to good a opportunity not to go up there and try my hand at some motor racing photography. So it was that I took a day off work(for some reason I always feel guilty about taking a day off for pure photographic reasons like I have somehow betrayed my family ) and made my way up the hill on a cool summer morning.

There is one critical technique to master when taking pictures of fast moving objects like racing cars and that is the pan. Basically you need to track the car as it passes you, so the car itself is pin sharp and the background is nicely blurred so indicating motion.

This sounds pretty simple, however like all such things, execution is often more difficult than theory.

Firstly how fast you need to pan is a equation based on how close you are to the object and the speed it is moving past you. Too fast and you struggle to move the camera to follow the object. Since the idea is to keep the moving object pin sharp and the background blurred, you do need to keep the object at the same point in the viewfinder when the shutter is open.

After experience with previous test days where they had closed a lot of the track off, I did not expect to get too close to the action. My previous experience with Donington Park was that the sight lines are generally pretty atrocious. I don't know whether this is common to all circuits, but most of the best picture locations are obscured by fixed safety fencing, meaning trying to get any reasonable photo is out of the question. When you do get a good view, it usually means you are so far back that you need some serious glass and a steady hand to get a good image (I often laugh to myself when think back that at some point Donington was proposed to hold Formula 1).

However this time I was pleasantly surprised. Not only was the full circuit open, but the cars were using the Melbourne hairpin part of the circuit which allowed me to get far closer and without the usual obstructed view. So this time I could easily get close enough for my 300mm to get some decent shots.

In fact sometimes I found I could get to close. The idea was to get a big a close up as possible, but the speed of the cars meant that if I got too close, it was virtually impossible to swing the camera around to keep the car in shot. So I resorted to moving back some meters, resulting in shots that were less detailed ( and backtracking on my earlier rant-et that cameras today have far to many pixels). Another problem ,which is probably unique to this sort of motor racing, is that because the cars are electric they are damn quiet. This means that they are upon you before you know it, unlike other motor racing events where you can here the cars a mile off (believe me I know, I live only a few miles from afore said circuit and can often hear them even from that distance )

Another challenge was getting the cars pin sharp. Looking at the results later show that often while some of the car was sharp, others parts were slightly blurred. This is probably a consequence of shooting at a high shutter speed which meant having a very narrow depth of field. I now know why the pros carry lenses with such whopping great pieces of glass.

As a consequence this is one of the first times that I have used  the Photoshop unsharp tool. This tool has probably the worst name in Photoshop (although Dodge and Burn come a close second). Despite what the name says, it actually brings out detail in a photo, not reduces it. The technique has actually got a long history going back well before digital processing. It basically takes a blurred copy of the original photo (so the name), inverts it and uses it to cancel out the blurred elements. The result is that detail's can be enhanced ( like the sort of things you see on CSI [although in this case they actually work]). I therefore used the tool to bring out things like blurred logos and other writing on the car.

The technique is pretty simple. I create a duplicate layer and a mask with all hidden. I then do a unsharp mask over the entire photo. Because I am only applying it to small details I use a pretty aggressive one with the amount about 100 and radius of ~5. I then use a white brush to unmask the part of the photo I want the unsharp mask filter to apply, which is generally the writing, the helmet and some of edges.

Before on the unsharp mask on the left and after on the right. The words and the Michelin logo are now far clearer

Is this cheating? Well no more than a myriad of other Photoshop techniques that are used for getting the best out of your photos. My take on it is, if you are not adding anything to your photo that was not already there, and is done subtly, it is allowable.

I managed to get quite a few half decent shots. However I have said in the past that I am not a great fan of having photos with all the usual angles, and generally what I got her are some perfectly nice, but pretty boring photos of cars. In my defense, due to the limited viewing angles, it was difficult to really take anything different. I do have some ideas on how to spice some of the photos up using Photoshop so watch this space.

Anyway it was a fun day out (Even though Leonardo do Caprio  failed to make an appearance ) and excellent practice in the art of panning.

Here are some of the results.

 The Amlin Aguri car was the most photogenic and caught the eye
 Most of the photos were side on, so a slightly different angle made a change
 This is panned nicely with the background showing good speed
 The buildings make a big difference here. Also the car going slightly out of shot gives the impression of speed

 This landscape shot shows the circuit nicely
 This is a bit of a trick. Head on shot, but the sky darkened using a gradient

 Although this one is not totally in shot, it provides a nice close up

 The rear is not generally the best shot, but with the car cornering and the road ahead in picture makes it quite dynamic
 These tyres are used as movable crash barriers but gave a nice detail

 The Virgin cars were nice, but the mirror surface made getting a good photo difficult
Close ups in the pits can be quite powerful too

No comments:

Post a Comment